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India Finds Explosives in Scrap Metal Imports from War Zones - 2004-10-15

The Indian government says it will tighten laws on importing metal scrap after hundreds of shells and rockets have been found in recent shipments. Experts say the material is coming from war zones such as Iraq.

Scrap metal can be deadly, as India discovered two weeks ago, when 10 workers at a private steel company near New Delhi were killed in an explosion. The blast was caused by live shells in the scrap imported by the firm.

Since then, the Indian army has spent days checking and defusing shells recovered from scrap imports at the factory.

The incident also sent authorities scrambling on inspections throughout the country. The checks have unearthed hundreds of artillery shells, rockets and cartridges in metal scrap in at least nine states. Most have been found in the north and west of India, where the majority of small steel smelting units are located.

Defense experts say most of the shells were rusted, but some were live. Explosives experts have defused most of them.

Investigations show that the deadly items generally came from conflict regions, imported by private dealers who pick the scrap up cheaply and reuse it to make steel.

Brigadier Arun Sehgal at the Indian Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi says the Middle East has become a big source of scrap since the American-led war on terror.

"The particular problem with this scrap is it is essentially coming from war zones as far away as Kosovo, and as close as Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is being routed through central dealers who do not observe any safety standards," he said.

Most developed countries have banned scrap metal imports from war zones. But much of it finds its way to countries like India, where rules are more easily circumvented.

Indian authorities say all scrap material brought into the country will now have to carry a "no war material" certificate. They are also tightening screening procedures at the ports.

Over the last decade, environmental activists have often complained that India is becoming a dumping ground for hazardous waste, and demanded more stringent checks to prevent it.